Sometimes the best way to convey the essence of an event is via comparison. Especially when that event might be too noisy and hectic to capture on video. Or, when you’re video recorder isn’t fully charged, so all you have are pictures, words, and memories.
And teeth stains.
Honestly, I think that my dentist is about to have a windfall…
Such is the essence of Premiere Napa Valley, which recently took place (February 20th) at the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena, and is the spot where members of the Napa Valley Vintners Association hock ultra low-production amounts (often only one barrel / 5 cases worth) of (presumably) ultra-premium red wine.
Winning lot bidders obtain a unique product available nowhere else on the planet, specially bottled for their restaurant / merchants / stores / etc., along with (presumably) bragging rights at achieving the exclusivity. In other words, it’s a (very stiff) competition, presenting (presumably) the best-of-the-best from 200 of Napa’s most storied and well-respected producers; a tooth-staining, mouth-puckering wine spectacle orgy of Cabernet-based California goodness.
As for the comparison: PNV is like a cross between Best In Show, the Superbowl, the Emmys, Calligula, and (with a lot of Japanese buyers thrown in for good measure) a Godzilla movie.
It will make sense, in a minute (or two)…
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You probably could have guessed that Robert Parker isn’t at high risk for becoming unemployed anytime soon without me explicitly stating it, but I thought I should clear up that I’m not after his job, in case there develops any rampant speculation on that topic in the future.
This is because I have never been, am not, and will never be a Wine Tasting Maven.
The point was driven home to me quite clearly and forcefully last week at the 2010 Premiere Napa Valley’s Perspective Tasting, held on two floors (Chardonnays on the top floor, Cabs on the bottom floor) in the meticulously kept sensory analysis classrooms at The Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena. To put it mildly, tasting three successive comparative vintages of Napa cabs and Chards, blind, lined up one after another in a mostly white, sterile environment was the equivalent of having a joy vacuum attached to my wine-loving soul and turned on full-blast.
Sterile. Quiet. Introverted. Not a drip of social aspect or drop of true enjoyment in sight.
I briefly contemplated the alternative activity of banging my head against the CIA’s gorgeous walls of earthtoned, irregular stones, until I bled and then passed out. As it turned out, I tasted some wines instead (more on the specific wines in a minute. Or two.). But I didn’t truly taste them – not the way I’d define ‘truly tasting’, anyway.
This isn’t the fault of the wines, vintners, CIA, or the other tasting participants – it’s my fault, without a single shred of doubt. I am simply incapable of tasting wine – I mean, really tasting it – that analytically. I’m sure that Parker could rip through that scenario in record time and then, just for shits and giggles, quiz himself on the merits of the 92-96 point scoring wines in the bunch 11 years later. I watched friend and fellow symposium attendee and panelist Alder Yarrow sniff, spit, and scribble his way through every single one of the dozens of numbered carafes on display in the blind Cab tasting, as if he were a pleasant, well-poised, humanoid-shaped and purple-toothed machine.
I will never be that guy.
And I never want to be that guy…
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Most 1WineDude.com readers will already be aware that my fellowship to last week’s 2010 Professional Wine Writers Symposium was underwritten by Franciscan. As part of the fellowship award, Franciscan invited me to a private tasting and interview with Janet Myers, the wine director who also handles winemaking duties at Mt. Veeder.
Janet is a geek, in every positive sense of the word. We got to know each other a bit the night before the interview, at a dinner held for the fellowship recipients and their underwriting wineries, and I got enjoy Janet’s down-to-earth approach – which belies an almost encyclopedic knowledge of all things related to Franciscan, Mt. Veeder, and especially how their respective terroirs translate into their finished wines. She’s especially geeky about yeasts – and when you produce one of the more expensive Napa Chardonnays based on native yeasts (Cuvee Sauvage – the 2006 of which wowed the diners at our table with its balanced marriage of stone fruits, rich mouthfeel and acidic, refreshing finish) , it’s probably an enormous benefit to have a passionate geek making your wine.
Janet also has a passion for blending that was evident when tasting the Franciscan and Mt. Veeder portfolio; all of the wines under her care are clearly well-crafted. And while Franciscan’s best-known wine (the 2006 Napa cabernet) felt out of balance to me, I was floored by the 2006 Napa Merlot, which Janet indicated gets a lot of focus at Franciscan in general because Merlot is such an important part of the blend that goes into their flagship Meritage (“Magnificat”). The Merlot is textbook Oakville – plump, ripe, full of plums and smoky tobacco – but is extremely well-balanced and supple. For $22 bones – it’s an impressive feat of winemaking and a hell of a wine for the price tag.
Janet kindly agreed to have some of our discussion on her approach to blending captured on video, which is embedded below. You might be surprised to learn (as I was) that there isn’t a set “recipe” for blending the Magnificat. “We’re in the ‘blend late’ camp,” Janet told me, meaning that individual varieties are vinified separately and then blended together to make the final wine later. “I want to see how they develop before they get ‘nominated’ to go into the final blend – because they can surprise you. We’re not making Coca-Cola here; we’re keeping within a theme.” More on that in the vid.
While the first thing that you may notice in the vid is my annoyingly rampant use of the dumbass’ anthemic “uhhhmmmm…” (due mostly to my state of exhaustion after having tasted dozens of wines at Pre-Premiere Napa events, some of it in soul-suckingly sterile environments – more on that in a later post), the first person who comments correctly identifying the MAJOR gaffe that I toss out in this video will win a fabulous prize (not kidding). Good luck!
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